The Irresistible Origin Story
By CJ Daugherty
There is something irresistible about an origin story. The beginning. The first moment when an innocent character discovers their life is not at all as they thought. And the future they’d hoped for is never going to happen. Because everything is much weirder than they ever dreamed.
Taking a straight-laced character and turning their world upside down is a writer’s dream. We all want to do it. Because when we go in, even we – who invented these characters – have no idea really how they’re going to react, when we throw a demon at them. This, in essence, is the fun part.
Taylor Montclair, my main character in The Secret Fire, comes from a secret line of alchemists with tremendous powers. She can draw energy from the elements that exist all around her. Power from the water that falls as rain; power from the air, from the earth, and from fire. Taylor is, effectively, a superhero. She just doesn’t know it yet.
When we meet Taylor, she is living an ordinary life, studying for her A-levels in a small Oxfordshire town. Shattering that perfect world, and seeing how she deals with this new reality of demons, ancient curses, and a secret battle for the future of our civilization—that was an irresistible draw. Does she survive? How does she survive?
I love this bit. Tearing her world apart, and watching her struggle to survive. I’m cruel that way. Or maybe I’m just a writer that way. I’m in it for this stuff. And I’m not alone. Look at other origin stories that went before mine, and you can see other writers loving this part, too.
Would Harry Potter have been better if he already had full command of his powers when we met him? Would we care about Daenerys Targaryen if the first time we saw her she was swooping in to battle on the back of a dragon? Isn’t it better that we learn about her struggle first, so we understand her pain and how far she’s come? That we have watched her fail, and fall, and fight, and bleed, before she gets to take down some evil dudes with spears on the back of a big-ass firebreathing monster? Give me the dragons and the taking what’s mine with fire and blood. But show me the struggle to get there first.
Or take season one of Buffy. When we meet her, Buffy is still learning how to use her own strength. She’s only recently learned she’s the Chosen One, and she was pretty happy with her Valley Girl life just the way it was, thanks very much. Her struggle to understand her powers is one of the things about that series that really draws you in. You’re learning about the new reality of vampires and demons along with her. By season five, though, even she is a little tired of her own powers. That’s an interesting story, to be sure; but it’s a very different one.
The disruption of taking an ordinary character and giving them superpowers is more fascinating to me than the mere existence of those powers in the first place. I always think the story is more interesting when they’re accidentally blowing shit up at the beginning than it is after they’ve got the hang of it.
So give me an origin story any day. Peter Parker with an itchy spider bite. Clarke Kent as an odd young man from a small town in Kansas. Taylor Montclair at 17, about to have her world turned upside down.
The Secret Fire by CJ Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld is published on 10th September (£6.99 Atom)